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Scan Converters and Retrieving

Digital CCTV Images

J Tighe

Publication No. 24/05

Scan Converters and Retrieving

Digital CCTV Images
J Tighe
Publication No. 24/05

Publication No. 24/05

Scan Converters and Retrieving Digital CCTV Images

J Tighe
Publication No. 24/05

The text of this publication may not be reproduced, nor may talks or lectures based on
material contained within the document be given, without the written consent of the Director,
Home Office Scientific Development Branch.

Home Office Scientific Development Branch

St Albans
United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)1727 816400
Fax: +44 (0)1727 816233
Email: hosdb@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk
Website: www.hosdb.homeoffice.gov.uk


Publication No. 24/05

Management summary
This document is intended to give advice and guidance on the use of scan converters in the
extraction of video from digital CCTV systems. If video cannot be removed from such a
system in its original digital format or via an analogue output, the only viable option is to
convert the signal intended for the systems monitor into a standard video format that can
be easily recorded. This process of scan conversion virtually always results in a loss of
information as the resolution and frame rate of a computer graphics signal usually exceeds
that of PAL video. However, the loss of useful information can be kept to a minimum by
the careful selection, installation and adjustment of appropriate equipment.

Publication No. 24/05


Management summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .iii

Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

Technical review of scan converters . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4


Suggested procedures for operational use . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6


Selection of equipment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6
Installation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9
Zoom to region of interest . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10
Adjustment of video levels . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .11
Output format . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .12
Recording format . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13

Alternative methods to scan converting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13


How scan converters work . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4

Other functionality . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6

High quality frame grabber . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13

Screen grab . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13

Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14

Publication No. 24/05


The use of digital technology within the security industry has revolutionised
CCTV systems. Unfortunately, along with the undoubted benefits that this
development has introduced, police video technicians needing to extract
information from such systems have experienced fresh difficulties beyond those
encountered with analogue systems.
There is a hierarchy of preferred export methods currently employed by the
police. At the top of this list is the removal of data in its original digital format
via CD, DVD, hard disk drive, etc. However, the design of digital CCTV
systems has often not fully taken account of their role in crime investigation.
Consequently, when police video technicians attempt to retrieve evidential
video in this form, they often find that it may not be possible to do so or that
extraction in this manner is prohibitively time consuming.
Many digital CCTV systems have a Video Out connection available, allowing
an analogue signal to be output and subsequently recorded. Police video
practitioners will use this method if it is not possible to extract digital data,
but the drawbacks of this form of retrieval are that there usually is a drop in
quality, and metadata (e.g. time and date information) may be irrevocably lost.
Due to poor design, some digital CCTV systems neither allow the export of
digital data nor provide an output of analogue video signals. In such cases, it
is necessary to make use of the signal intended for the digital CCTV systems
monitor by utilising a scan converter. This item of equipment provides a
means of transforming a computer graphics signal into a standard video
signal. The output video signal is usually of an analogue form such as
composite or Y/C, but more expensive models sometimes also offer output in a
digital format such as SDI. The use of scan converters is viewed very much as
a last resort by police video technicians as it can be severe on quality and also
has the potential for losing metadata.
This report is intended to provide guidance on the use of scan converters to
extract video from digital CCTV systems. It is not a guide to the functionality
of individual models of scan converters and, as such, no references are made
to individual manufacturers or models. However, to gain an understanding of
the technology used in scan converters, we have reviewed equipment ranging
from that intended for domestic use (~300) up to that designed for use in a
broadcast environment (~8,500).
The use of scan conversion as an export method is not recommended; extraction
of digital information or analogue video signals are preferred options. However,
lack of alternatives sometimes means that it is the only viable extraction
method. To address this problem, HOSDB is actively engaged with industry to
encourage the production of digital CCTV systems that are compatible with
police users requirements. A guidance document has been produced that
provides manufacturers, resellers, installers and purchasers with information
regarding these requirements. Copies of PSDB Publication No. 09/05 UK Police
Requirements for Digital CCTV Systems can be downloaded from

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Scan Converters and Retrieving Digital CCTV Images




How scan converters work

A description of scan converters is contained within PSDB Publication
No. 20/02 Video Processing and Analysis Training Reference Manual but is
also included here for completeness.
The most commonly encountered form of computer graphics signals is a
progressive scan format with separate red, green, blue, and horizontal and
vertical synchronisation components. Such a signal is usually carried by a
dedicated cable and connectors (see Figure 1) linking the graphics card of the
host PC to the computer monitor. Typical figures for computer signal
resolution are shown below in Table 1. These formats will usually update at a
specified refresh rate in the range 50200 Hz. While it may be strictly accurate
for VGA to refer to only a certain range of resolution, it is typical for the term
to refer to computer graphics signals irrespective of resolution, a convention
that is followed in this report.

1. Red

9. No pin

2. Green

10. Sync ground

3. Blue

11. Monitor ID bit 0

4. Monitor ID bit 2

12. Monitor ID bit 1

5. Ground

13. Horizontal sync

6. Red ground

14. Vertical sync

7. Green ground

15. Monitor ID bit 3

8. Blue ground

Figure 1 VGA connector and pin-out diagram


Resolution (pixels)

Table 1 Common resolutions for computer images

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Technical review of scan converters

PAL video signals have 625 lines and 25 frames (50 fields) per second in an
interlaced format. Analogue video can be transmitted in a number of different
formats such as composite, Y/C and component. For example, with composite
video, the luminance, chrominance and synchronisation information is
combined within a single channel. Consequently, when a scan converter
transforms a computer graphics signal to a video signal, much processing must
be undertaken. The two parameters that have to be adapted are the frame rate
and resolution as illustrated in Figure 2. As both of these parameters generally
have higher values in a computer signal than is the case with PAL video, the
process of scan converting normally results in the loss of information. In
addition, the format has to be changed from progressive to interlace.

Odd fields = Blue

Even fields = Red


VGA refresh rate


50 fields per second

i) Video frame conversion



VGA resolution

625 lines

ii) Video line conversion

Figure 2 Parameter adaptation required in scan conversion

Not all scan converters use the same technique to achieve the necessary
transformations. To adapt the line rate the choice is between:

omission lines from the VGA signal are dropped at regular intervals to
obtain the required number; or

extrapolation the information from a number of lines from the VGA

signal is used to produce the necessary number of output lines.

Similarly, omission or extrapolation is used to obtain the correct frame rate

with VGA frames being dropped or combined as required.

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Scan Converters and Retrieving Digital CCTV Images


Other functionality
Scan converters typically offer other functions in addition to those already
mentioned. These are very model-specific but can include:

video level adjustment the ability to adjust brightness, contrast,

chrominance gain, gamma value, etc;

zoom many scan converters offer the ability to zoom into an area of
interest. The range of the zoom facility is model dependent but typically
allows a magnification of 200% and it may be possible to zoom separately
in horizontal and vertical directions;

flicker reduction a very noticeable problem with the output from scan
converters is that pictures may appear to flicker (also known as twitter). This
arises from fine line detail that is present in one field of a frame but not the
other. By averaging over lines, the effect of this flicker can be reduced but
only at the expense of detail in the vertical direction;

noise reduction a smoothing filter is applied in the horizontal direction

which reduces the appearance of noise but has the side effect of removing
high frequency detail;

remote control either by infra-red hand-held device or PC software

controlled via an RS232 cable;

freeze the output of the scan converter is frozen to the image being
displayed when this function is selected;

genlock the ability to use an external reference signal to synchronise the

scan converters output with other video equipment; and

test pattern generation one or more test patterns (such as standard colour bars,
PLUGE or cross hatch) may be displayed which can be useful in optimising the
performance of other video equipment in the processing chain.



Selection of equipment
It is important that before any equipment is purchased, the user clearly identifies
what he/she requires of the scan converter. This operational requirement will
determine which equipment is suitable and the user can choose accordingly. The
functionality of models varies greatly as does the price. The main issues that need to
be considered are listed below.


Frequency response
Higher quality scan converters typically offer more functions and support greater
ranges of input resolution and rates. Perhaps more importantly, the main benefit

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Suggested procedures for operational use

that is apparent with more expensive equipment is the improved response at

higher frequencies. This high frequency information corresponds to detail in
images. The amount of information capable of being contained within a computer
monitor picture typically exceeds that which can be displayed on a video device, so
loss of information is virtually inevitable in scan conversion. However, lower
quality scan converters lose more information than is necessary in this
transformation. One of the reasons for this is that they do not sample in the
horizontal direction as frequently as their higher quality counterparts and so
cannot capture high frequency components in this direction. The quality of the
output processing circuitry of the scan converter may also be a factor, with better
circuitry capable of displaying wider frequency ranges. This loss of high frequency
data, evident as fine detail in the video sequence, may have an impact on the
amount of useful information that can be extracted.


Acceptable scan rates

The manufacturers specification often quotes minimum and maximum allowable
figures for the input resolution and frame rate (also known as vertical scan rate)
supported by the scan converter. Rather than specifying these separately, a figure
for maximum horizontal scan rate may sometimes be stated. This figure can be
calculated by multiplying the frame rate of the computer signal by the number of
lines in the vertical direction (including vertical blanking). The response of scan
converters to input resolutions outside of their acceptable range varies. Some will
fail to produce an image at all while others may produce pictures that are distorted
in some way, e.g. with an erratic frame rate.


Interpolation v. omission
Another issue lies with the way in which the scan converter achieves the
necessary reduction in frames. As described in 2.1 How scan converters work,
the two methods employed are omission and extrapolation. Omission results in
better quality individual frames, but when they are run in sequence motion may
appear to stutter a little. Interpolation, i.e., averaging over a number of input
frames to produce one output frame, allows motion to appear more natural.
Individual frames may appear to have ghost images caused by this averaging
which may affect the critical viewing of a sequence. The operational requirement
should be used for deciding which is the most suitable technology.


Pre-purchase testing
As the manufacturers literature may not contain all required information and those
details that are present need to be carefully scrutinised, it is strongly recommended
that models are obtained on a loan basis and tested before a product is purchased.
To get some idea of the quality of the scan converter, it may be advantageous to test
in four areas: frequency response, grey scale reproduction, aspect ratio, and dropped
frames. It is essential that before any assessment takes place, all equipment should be
set up properly (see 3.2 Installation).
Frequency response can be assessed by scan converting some test patterns. Software
is available that can display frequency charts on a PC at a variety of resolutions; an
example is the freeware Philips Test Pattern Generator (available to download from
www.benchmarkhq.ru/english.html?/be_monitor.html) but the same functionality is
also present in other products. It is important to remember that VGA signals are
capable of displaying higher frequencies than video signals, so information may

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Scan Converters and Retrieving Digital CCTV Images

have to be lost on scan conversion irrespective of the quality of the equipment. If

the scan converter is not capable of displaying a frequency, it may either just display
grey or aliasing may occur.

Figure 3 Suitable image for testing frequency response

(Source: Philips Test Pattern Generator)

Grey scale ramp and staircase test patterns can be used in conjunction with a
waveform monitor to investigate whether there is a linear luminance reproduction.

Figure 4 Suitable images for testing luminance reproduction

(Source: Philips Test Pattern Generator)

The accuracy with which the equipment can maintain the correct aspect ratio can be
determined by frame grabbing a scan converted image containing a circle or crosshatch pattern. It is essential that the geometrical properties of the frame grabber are
established by capturing an appropriate video test signal directly and measuring
horizontal and vertical dimensions using image analysis software. With the frame
grabber distortion accounted for, measurements on images grabbed from the scan
converter will reveal whether the equipment is keeping the correct aspect ratio.

Figure 5 Suitable image for testing geometrical properties

(Source: Philips Test Pattern Generator)

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Suggested procedures for operational use

If a sequence is running on the PC with the numbers 1 to 25 being displayed in

order once every second, frame grabbing a sequence from the scan converters
output and subsequent analysis will confirm whether or not any frames in the
sequence are being missed.


Other issues
Other practical issues that should be considered are:


does the product come with a warranty?

does the manufacturer provide technical support?

is all the necessary cabling provided?

is the scan converter rack mountable or easily portable?

what output formats are available? (See 3.5 Output format)

While the manufacturers instructions should always be followed when installing
equipment, we use this section to make a number of general observations and
A scan converter is normally used in the configuration illustrated in Figure 6 with
the VGA signal looped through the scan converter. The scan converted signal is
fed into an analogue video device (e.g. monitor, VTR) using cables appropriate to
the analogue video transmission format (e.g. a coaxial cable for composite
signals, three coaxial cables for component, S-video cable for Y/C). If SDI signals
are being used, the set-up is identical except a digital video device will be used.
VGA cable


Scan converter

video device
Coaxial cable(s)/S-video cable

Figure 6 Generic configuration for scan conversion


A problem that has been observed with some equipment is the adverse effect on
the VGA signal when it is looped through the scan converter to the computer
monitor. This is exacerbated if the impedance of the scan converter does not
match that of the cabling/monitor. The impedance can usually be set either by
navigating the menu structure of the scan converter or by a manual switch located
at the rear of the equipment.

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Scan Converters and Retrieving Digital CCTV Images


All equipment in the video processing chain should be optimised prior to its
use to ensure the maximum amount of information can be obtained from
the source material. More details of how to do this can be found in the
EQUIPMENT chapter of PSDB Publication No. 20/02 Video Processing
and Analysis Training and Reference Manual.
Some models of scan converter have an autoscan feature that should be used
whenever the equipment is switched on or a new signal is input. This
determines the parameters of the VGA signal and adapts the output signal
accordingly. While some models do this automatically whenever a change in
input signal is made, it may be necessary to restart other models before the
new parameters are detected. It is essential that the appropriate method for the
model in question is used otherwise the parameters used for conversion may be
incorrect. The details of parameters used can normally be viewed either on an
LCD in the unit or via an on-screen display.


Refresh rate
While the refresh rate of a PC graphics card is typically 60 Hz or above, the
signal usually carries a lot of redundant data as far as digital CCTV material is
concerned as this has almost always been captured at a maximum of 25 frames
per second. It would be desirable for the scan converter to produce a video
signal retaining the useful information contained within the computer graphics
signal and discard the redundant part. Unfortunately, with a scan converter
that achieves its output refresh rate by omission, there is no guarantee that the
25 frames per second it produces will replicate the CCTV material in its
entirety. For example, if the PC graphics card outputs at 60 Hz, the scan
converter will not be able to drop VGA frames at completely regular intervals
to achieve the standard video rate and so some frames of the CCTV material
may be missed. If the operator has access to the host PC, an improvement may
be obtained by ensuring the graphics cards refresh rate is a multiple of 25 Hz. If
for example a refresh rate of 75 Hz is chosen, then the scan converter can ignore
two out of every three VGA images to obtain the correct PAL rate. Although
this may improve the situation it by no means guarantees success and useful
information may still be dropped. Furthermore the host PC usually will only
offer to display at certain rates and these may not include multiples of 25 Hz.
If it is essential that all frames are captured, it may be worth considering using
the CCTV playback software to replay the material at less than full speed.
With each CCTV image being displayed for longer, it is less likely that the scan
converter will miss any of these when producing its output video sequence.


Zoom to region of interest

To enable the maximum amount of useful information to be extracted, it is
recommended that the zoom function of the scan converter be used to display
the region of interest (ROI) so that it takes up the entire output image.
The zoom function on some cheaper models of scan converter has just one
setting, typically allowing magnification to 200% of the original size. Higher
quality scan converters allow the degree of zoom to be varied and it may be
possible to adjust the horizontal and vertical magnifications separately. The


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Suggested Procedures for Operational Use

area of the computer monitor picture being scan converted that is being
enlarged can be adjusted so that the output of the process is the required ROI.
It has been observed that the aspect ratio of the scan converter output could
vary slightly on zooming. The extent to which this occurs varies according to
model, input resolution, level of zoom, etc. However, such deformations are
relatively minor and may only be important if the intention is for the images to
be subjected to photogrammetry. Furthermore, the aspect ratio deformations
caused by the scan converting could well be negligible compared to lens and
recording distortions.
An added benefit of zooming is that fine detail in the 100% sized image with
frequencies affected by cross-luminance (see 3.5 Output format) will no longer
show this phenomenon when displayed in zoom mode. Of course this refers to
cross-luminance that occurs at the scan converting stage; there may already be
cross-luminance in the CCTV images arising at the capture stage.
If the ROI takes up most of the original screen size, it may not be practical to
use the zoom option. This means that small detail (e.g. time and date
information) may not be apparent when scan converted. This problem can be
addressed by using something like the magnify facility available on Windows
platforms (started by selecting Run from the Start menu, typing magnify in
the box and then the return key). A magnified view of the portion of screen to
which the mouse cursor is pointing will then appear at the top of the screen. By
placing the mouse pointer over the time and date, selecting an appropriate level
of magnification, and then simultaneously pressing the alt and m keys to
stop the magnifier following the mouse cursor, the time and date information
should be displayed large enough to still be legible after scan conversion.


Adjustment of video levels

If the maximum amount of information is to be retained, it is important that
video levels on the scan converter should be correctly adjusted. Such
adjustment is dependent on the image in question and is ideally performed
using a waveform monitor. For composite and Y/C format signals, the
luminance component should be 0.7 V from black to peak white (see Figure 7).

Figure 7 The waveform of the luminance component of a PAL video line

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Scan Converters and Retrieving Digital CCTV Images

If this range is exceeded, this could result in clipping and loss of detail in some
areas of the picture. On the other hand, if the full dynamic range is not
utilised then the output image will appear to have poor contrast and noise will
be more perceptible.
A noticeable feature of scan converted images is how different colours can appear
as compared to the same images displayed on a computer monitor. While there
may be some controls that allow adjustment of colour related parameters, such as
chroma gain, it is almost impossible to ensure that the colours are reproduced
with complete accuracy. In addition to any errors arising in the conversion
process, it is important to note that the colour gamut available to the computer is
generally different to that of analogue video images, i.e. the PCs RGB is not the
same as that of PAL. Therefore it may not be possible to replicate some colours
of the original signal in the scan converters output. Furthermore, the bandwidth
available for colour information in Y/C and composite video signals is much
smaller as compared to RGB signals. Consequently, if extremely accurate colour
measurements are required, care needs to be taken.


Output format
The range of output formats provided by a scan converter is model specific.
However, increased price usually reflects both a wider range of possible outputs
and a higher quality. Of course the quality of scan converted digital CCTV
material is ultimately limited by that of the original recording. However, by
choosing an appropriate export method, the quality of the material is best
preserved with the minimum amount of degradation. The most frequently
encountered methods in approximate descending ranking of quality are:


Serial Digital Interface (SDI) this export format is available only on scan
converters designed for use within a broadcast environment. This format is
intended to be of high quality with the only drawback to its use being that
only expensive, broadcast-quality equipment has been designed to accept it;

component this method has three channels carrying either separate red,
green and blue (RGB) signals or luminance and colour difference signals
(YPBPR). Often, the scan converter is capable of exporting in either
component form using the same connectors with the choice of which
format is used set by navigating through the menu structure. These
transmission formats retain high quality in images as is evident when
viewed on a compatible monitor. However, the drawback with this method
is the general lack of recording devices that can accept component signals;

Y/C another popular format of fairly high quality is by Y/C which has
separate channels for luminance and chrominance. This is available as an
input on many video recording devices and some video laboratories are set
up to transport video in this format;

composite almost all scan converters allow export in this format. As the
signal contains luminance, chrominance, blanking and synchronisation
information in one channel, it can be carried via one BNC cable. The main
drawback associated with its use concerns the quality of images obtained.
As compared with RGB, the colour information in composite signals is
sub-sampled. In addition, the 4.43 MHz colour subcarrier is contained

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Alternative methods to scan converting

within the 5.5 MHz luminance signal. This leads to a phenomenon know
as cross-luminance, where high frequency detail is misinterpreted as colour
information. In scan conversions this is particularly noticeable with fine
detail such as screen text which can become illegible;


RF signal only found on the very cheapest converters, this is a UHF signal
intended to be input to domestic television sets via aerial sockets. This
produces low quality images and is extremely susceptible to noise and crosschannel interference. Consequently its use should be avoided if at all possible.

Recording format
The appropriate recording format to use will depend on the quality of the
output from the scan converter and which formats are used at other stages in
the evidential chain. At all stages in this processing chain it is important to
retain the maximum amount of information. Therefore, VHS videotape may
not be the most suitable medium to record an SDI signal as the drop in quality
can be substantial. By recording low quality video onto high quality media, all
the benefits of using such media may not be realised, but what detail is present
can be better preserved and the signal-to-noise ratio kept as high as possible.



High quality frame grabber

By using a high quality frame grabber it is possible to capture VGA signals
onto another PC and store in an appropriate digital format. The benefit this
has over scan converting is that the recorded image does not have to conform to
composite analogue video standards regarding resolutions or frame rate, i.e. it
can be done at the native resolution and rate of the VGA signal. However,
working at high resolutions and rates is very computer intensive and generates
very large files and so a specialist frame grabber and high specification PC is
required. Saving to a compressed format and/or reducing recorded frame rate
will reduce file sizes but can adversely affect quality. Work is currently being
undertaken at HOSDB to ascertain the viability of this approach.


Screen grab
Software is available to grab the contents of a window and to store it in a
suitable video format (e.g. AVI). However, this software would normally be
installed on a separate computer and used in scenarios where it has already
been possible to extract the data and replay program from the original CCTV
recorder. It may not be practical to install it on the CCTV recorder itself and
would not be worthwhile if the system then did not have the facility to export
the recorded sequence. If such an export method exists, it is recommended that
it be used to extract the original data and player, so that the processing can be
carried out elsewhere.

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Scan Converters and Retrieving Digital CCTV Images

While the use of scan converters is not a preferred option for extracting video
evidence from digital CCTV systems, it is often the only viable approach.
While it is virtually inevitable that scan converting will result in the loss of
information, this loss can be kept to a minimum by appropriate selection,
installation and adjustment of equipment.
Before settling on a particular model of scan converter it is important that the
purchaser clearly define what he/she desires in terms of frequency response,
acceptable input parameters and how the scan converter achieves the necessary
frame rate. To determine whether the equipment in question meets the
specification, pre-purchase testing should be performed.
In addition to following manufacturers instructions for installing the scan
converter, some other issues may need to be addressed including optimisation
of the video processing chain and how to minimise the possibility of missing
CCTV frames. To extract the maximum amount of relevant information from
a digital CCTV system via scan conversion, it is recommended that the scan
converter be zoomed into the region of interest. By choosing appropriate
output and recording formats, and correctly adjusting the levels of the scan
converters output signal, as much of this information as possible is retained
for future processing and analysis.


Publication No. 24/05

Home Office Scientific Development Branch

St Albans
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)1727 816400
Fax: +44 (0)1727 816233
Email: hosdb@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk
Website: www.hosdb.homeoffice.gov.uk